EC260: The Political Economy of Public Policy
Prerequisites: Introductory microeconomics, basic knowledge of calculus and
Dr Torun Dewan
Dr Valentino Larcinese
Does democracy promote economic growth and welfare? What determines the size
and evolution of the welfare state? Is regulation done in the interest of consumers? To
answer these and many related questions it is necessary to understand the
relationships between politics and economics. Governments and political processes
define the boundaries of economic relationships and the rules of market interactions.
Moreover, governments themselves allocate resources and these allocations reflect
complex political bargaining. Understanding the interaction between politics and
economics can help us to gain insight into the key questions of public policy making.
This course will examine public-policy making, its characteristics, determinants and
consequences in liberal democracies. The course will first provide theoretical
foundations from both economics and political science and then examine a number of
topics from both theoretical and applied areas of political economy: collective action,
electoral competition, fiscal policy and redistribution, bureaucracy, rent-seeking,
regulation, information and accountability, constitutional reforms.
The course is organized around 12 lectures (3 hours each). Each lecture will cover a
topic and classes (1 hour each) will then be devoted to solve problems and discuss
specific questions related to that topic. Problems and questions on each topic will be
distributed during the first lecture.
Assessment. This course is assessed by one written examination at the end of the
course. This will account for 50% of the mark. Additionally, students are required to
write a 5,000 words essay that will account for the remaining 50% of the final mark.
A list of essay titles will be distributed during the first lecture.
Kenneth A Shepsle Analyzing Politics London: W.W. Norton (2010)
& Mark S Bonchek
(This is an excellent introductory text that you will certainly find useful as the main
text during this course)
Useful books for beginners
D.C. Mueller Public Choice III, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press
(2003) (Library reference: JF.1001.M94).
(This is a very useful reference text for this course which will cover much of the
material. It can be usefully complemented by other readings
that will be indicated in the syllabus).
P. Dunleavy Democracy, Bureaucracy and Public Choice (Hemel
Hempstead: Harvester-Wheatsheaf, 1991).
(Useful for some topics on elections, parties, interest groups and bureaucracies).
P. A. McNutt The Economics of Public Choice, Second Edition, Aldershot,
Edward Elgar, 2002.
(Okay for selected topics, but not comprehensive for this course)
A stimulating read, definitely recommended:
A.K. Dixit: The Making of Economic Policy, The MIT Press, 1996.
These two books are harder but some might enjoy:
Allan Drazen Political Economy in Macroeconomics (Princeton, 2000)
Torsten Persson Political Economics: Explaining Economic Policy,
& Guido Tabellini MIT Press (2000).
A. Downs An Economic Theory of Democracy (New York: Harper and
M. Olson The Logic of Collective Action (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard
Univ Press, 1965).
W. Niskanen Bureaucracy and Representative Government (Chicago:
Aldine-Atherton, 1971), now republished as Bureaucracy and
Public Economics (Edward Elgar, 1995)
Journals which are especially useful for this course are American Political Science
Review, American Journal of Political Science, Journal of Political Economy,
American Economic Review, Quarterly Journal of Economics, Journal of Theoretical
Politics, Public Choice, British Journal of Political Science, Economics of
Governance and Economics and Politics.
In the following, readings marked * are recommended.
Syllabus and Reading List
1. Introduction to Political Economy. Rationality and methodological
individualism. Preference Aggregation and Manipulation
This lecture will introduce the basic method of political economy. We will explore
the possibility of aggregating individual preferences into collective decisions and
the challenges that this process poses.
*Drazen, A. Ch. 1.
*Persson, T. & Tabellini, G. Ch. 1.
*Mueller Chs. 23, 24, 28.
Shepsle & Bonchek Chs 1-4
2. Public goods and the collective action problem.
The particular characteristics of public goods pose a number of problems for what
concerns their supply. Free-riding and collective action problems will be analysed
with the aid of simple game-theoretic concepts.
*Shepsle & Bonchek Chs. 8-10
M. Olson, The Logic of Collective Action, pp. 1-16.
K. Dowding, Power (Buckingham, Open University Press, 1996) ch. 2.
3. Elections and public policy. Majority rule
The majority rule has a special place in collective decision-making. We will see
why and will analyse electoral competition in majority systems. We will derive
several results on public policy formation under majority voting
*Mueller Ch. 5, 11
Shepsle & Bonchek Ch. 5
Persson & Tabellini Ch. 3
4. The public choice of redistribution. Welfare spending and the size of the
Why countries with apparently very similar economic characteristics differ in the
amount of resources that are redistributed to the poor? We will use the models
developed in lecture 3 to analyse welfare spending and the size of the public
*Mueller Ch 19.
*Drazen. Ch. 8.
*V.Larcinese Voting over redistribution and the size of the welfare state: the
role of turnout. It will be downloadable from the author’s web
& P. Jones Public Finance and Public Choice, McGraw-Hill, Ch. 14
Persson & Tabellini Ch. 6.
A. Meltzer A rational theory of the size of government, Journal of
& S. Richards Political Economy, 89, 914-927, 1981
Husted, T.A &, The Effect of the Expansion of the Voting Franchise and
L.W. Kenny: the Size of Government, Journal of Political Economy, 105,
P. Lindert What limits social spending?, Explorations in Economic
History, 33, 1-34, 1996
R. Perotti Income distribution and investment, European Economic
Review, 38, 827-835, 1994.
5. Information, mass media and public policy
The mass media appear to be increasingly important in elections. Ultimately they
might have a powerful influence on public policy. Is this true? And if yes, to
which extend? We will analyse several theories of mass media influence in
politics and have a look at what the data say.
*V. Larcinese Information, Elections and Public Policy. It will be
downloadable from the author’s web page.
* A.Prat & D. Stromberg (2010): "The Political Economy of Mass Media, mimeo,
downloadable here: http://econ.lse.ac.uk/staff/prat/papers/mediasurvey.pdf
V. Larcinese: The Channeled Italian Voters, in F. Padovano & R.Ricciuti (eds)
“Italian Institutional Reforms”, Springer 2007.
S. Della Vigna & M. Gentzkow (2010): Persuasion : Empirical Evidence, Annual
Review of Economics, 2010, Vol.2
* S. Della Vigna & E. Kaplan (2007) The Fox News Effect: Media Bias and Voting,
Quarterly Journal of Economics, August 2007, Vol. 122, pp. 1187-1234.
6. Electoral rules and policy outcomes
Institutions might influence the way voters and their elected representatives act.
Thus, constitutional rules might have important consequences for public policy.
We will focus on electoral rules and their impact on the provision of public goods
and overall public spending.
*Mueller Ch. 13
Persson & Tabellini, Ch. 10
Shepsle & Bonchek Chs. 11, 12
A. Lijphart Patterns of Democracy, Yale University Press, 1999, Chs. 1, 8
7. Legislative Behaviour
8. Time Inconsistency and Institutional Design
10. Democracy and Dictatorship
11. Corruption and Accountability